Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Klinsmann And The Concept Of Openness?

By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 28, 2011) US Soccer Players -- American soccer is currently in the midst of a new policy of, for lack of a better word, “openness.” Specifically, in regards to the United States National Team where head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is making every effort to explain his ideas often and at length to anyone that is willing to listen.

It's hard to avoid him if you have any interest in American soccer. He's on camera, in articles, and giving speeches at soccer events. And it's not just the expected 'coach talk' we hear from so many in his business.

Klinsmann is sharing thoughts on his overarching concepts, sure, but he's also drilling down to specifics in a way that isn't the norm. Ideas on tactics and approach are freely given, especially as it relates to America’s awaking to the sport of soccer, the way it goes about developing its players, and how a national character can be expressed through the way the national team plays. It's at both engaging for the emerging fan and valuable for those that have been around the game. Those dual purposes can sometimes be contradictory, but Klinsmann's enthusiasm carries over.

He's also talking about individual players, up to and including opinions on their club situations and personal communication he’s has had with them about their careers. Again, something that is normally off the table. A German legend by way of Southern California has installed an eye-opening program of transparency after a long period of letting the results on the field speak on behalf of the program.

What Klinsmann is doing is simple. He's changing the way information is passed from those that control it (in this case, Klinsmann himself) to those most hungry to consume it (in this case, the fans and media). Klinsmann’s voice is now an American soccer constant, be it in videos, in quotes appearing in the myriad digital soccer news outlets, or, in the most recent development, in a podcast specifically recorded as a primer for the team’s friendly with Italy on February 29th.

It’s extremely difficult to imagine most soccer coaches doing anything similar here or in any other country. That's especially true at international level, a high stakes game of personalities and gamesmanship where keeping quiet about specifics is taken for granted. Not Klinsmann, in part due to what he learned as a player first, and then applied as a coach. Friendliness gets a person a long way, and so does embracing a new culture.

Klinsmann is the living embodiment of wanton exuberance when it comes to soccer. As a mechanism for engaging the soccer public in his grand experiment, Klinsmann’s voice fills a void and an important one. While the game is growing at a reasonable and respectable pace, the mainstream sports media has yet to take serious interest in the day-to-day world of American soccer.

For Klinsmann, if the attention isn’t going to come to him, he's clearly decided to take the message directly to the people. That's nothing new for North American pro sports, but it's rarely applied to professional soccer.

If Klinsmann was coaching a team in one of America’s big three sports for any professional or big college program, he’d certainly have a weekly show (the ubiquitous “coach’s corner”) to give his thoughts on the direction of his team. Chatting with veteran soccer broadcaster Allen Hopkins on video and podcast is Klinsmann’s own version of the coach’s corner.

Then again, Klinsmann's position is different from any of his predecessors at National Team level. Klinsmann's primary job is to win games, no difference there. But he's also supposed to be changing things from the top down. Klinsmann is a reformer, a coach who sees unfulfilled potential in American soccer and believes he can correct its course.

Listening to Klinsmann talk outside of the usual National Team areas is like listening to a politician lay out a platform. It's a mix of concrete action to be taken and abstract concepts to be explored. And like with politicians, much of that talk is the same thoughts and concepts repeated again and again. Staying on point is part of the project.

The reformer works to change the system without the need to destroy it. Hammering away with his theme of national identity, freeing players so they can express themselves, and playing attacking soccer because it fits the American spirit is, for Klinsmann, about slowly changing attitudes. This was apparent when he was running camps for elite high school players in the United States even before taking the Germany job. For him, the scope of his work is nothing new.

Klinsmann's broader interpretation of the role of National Team coach isn't without its issues. Like any coach, he has to win games with the players available in an environment not of his making. As much control as a coach has, he ends up ceding most of it over 90 minutes. It's a risk Klinsmann knows well, making his choice to talk as openly and as often as he does all the more interesting.


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